Airborne connectivity has continued to expand, with more applications reaching a wider range of business aircraft. This is bringing new capabilities and “transforming” the way organizations are operating, industry leaders said during an EBACE Connect session on Thursday entitled “The Power of the Connected Aircraft for Enhanced Business Jet Operations.”
According to David Stanley, v-p of business development for Collins Aerospace Information Management Services, “The connected ecosystem on a business aircraft has obviously become more of a reality. We see that continued growth and that need for connectivity, but it's not just about passenger utilization that originally drove it. It's really expanded into data and data integration.”
Networks and technology are progressing rapidly, along with consumer devices, and “we're seeing these things are converging,” creating the connected ecosystem, Stanley said.
Looking at networks alone, “the amount of options continues to expand and it is starting to include aircraft of all sizes for high throughput services.” Just a few years ago, Stanley added, the industry had far fewer options with slow data speeds, high costs, and limits on the aircraft.
But as more players have jumped into the fray, spurring competition, “we find data speeds going up…and the cost of the bits going down,” he said. Additional network competition is “certainly important and it's very welcomed,” Stanley added.
Options for hardware are increasing as well, helping to drive down price, he noted. “I think the big point here is the service providers and networks have to start to innovate, and they have to provide differentiation. They have to provide value-added, which ultimately benefits that end-user.”
The hardware is also enabling expanded use. Stanley pointed to advanced routers that open up a path for electronic flight bases, engines, and avionics, with new capabilities for data analytics and digital exchanges.
Vista Global COO Nick van der Meer said his company began a journey “just trying to find something better than the previous technology we had on board.” The problem with global operations, he noted, is that technology availability was far more advanced in some regions than others, but customers expected seamless service. During that search for improved technology, “we started to realize exactly what we could do with this, from an operations and customer point of view, and that was never even expected,” van der Meer said. “We just wanted fast [service] for our customers…and it's been quite an eye-opener and a two-year journey of completely transforming the way we operate.”
He cited as an example the company’s new highly connected flight planning system, enabling the immediate upload to the FMS and electronic flight bag. “All of a sudden we can shave 30 minutes off a flight, be far more healthy for the environment, [and] shorten the route for the passenger.” The crew is happy because it saves them time and is more efficient, and the passengers are happy.
But he stressed that this is just the beginning and there is “so much more that we can achieve literally day by day.” Van der Meer called these changes “transformational” and said, “We're getting last-minute bookings to the most remote places of this world. So it's helping us stay connected. It's allowing us to keep in good contact with the crew and passengers no matter where they are.”
As a result, Vista Global restructured its employee tasks in the back offices. “We’re rolling those people to use clear and accurate data versus data that's been written down and then put into a technical journey log. Now everything is happening digitally.”
Meanwhile, from a manufacturer’s standpoint, the advancements have expanded the ability to better service and maintain products, said Bjorn Stickling, director of digital engine services for Pratt & Whitney Canada. “We have been very excited over the years that we've been able to get so much more data off the engines," Stickling said. “We’re very data-thirsty; we always want more and more details on the data.”
The company now has 6,000 engines connected. “We get full flight data from those engines that allow us to deliver proactive services and really focus on…availability, first and foremost, but then also transforming the way we could deliver services and business,” he said.